Monthly Archives: May 2010

Bread…Just For Today

Recently I’ve come across three different blog posts concerning bread. The most recent was Don Ray’s Chiriqui Chatter about the opening of a French Boulangerie that relocated to the city of David from Bouquete.

Joyce who lives not far from where I’m house sitting decries the lack of decent bread in Panama and describes baking her own in I have to agree with her. I bought some hot dog buns last week and they were inedible not only to myself but the generally ravenous dog that came along with the house turned her nose up at the things, too. I hope they won’t destroy the compost heap.

The post that made a lasting impression came from American author T (Teresa) Stores who has a blog entitled Strangers in the Village where she chronicles her 10 months stay in a small village in the south of France. Bread from the boulangerie just outside Port Vauban in Antibes was a daily joy and I rarely eat bread since I left France. But the opening paragraph of Teresa’s post have echoed in my head since I first read them:

“When I was a child, I memorized the Lord’s Prayer, Christ’s response to his disciples when they asked him to teach them to pray. The only request for a tangible thing in the entire prayer is “give us this day our daily bread.” Not for tomorrow, just for today, because we must remember to let the future take care of itself. We must eat today. And it’s not a six-course dinner we need, or even a full meal or meat or vegetables. Just bread. Just for today…”

Just for today. Have any of us really thought of those words we learned by rote when we were children? I must confess I never did…Just for today.


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BP Disaster And The Use Of Dispersing Agents On Oil Slicks

The ongoing tragedy of the BP oil rig disaster and attempts to mollify it with dispersing agents remind me of two experiences I have had with these things.

The first time I dealt with this was while I working as a crew boat captain in the Kerr-McGee oil production field in Breton Sound, Louisiana which is where the BP slick is centered. We actually lived on Breton Island and serviced the hundreds of oil and natural gas wells covering several hundred square miles to the north and south of the island. Scattered throughout the field there were six “facilities.” These facilities were about 50’X50’ and stood , maybe, 40’ out of the water. Each one was the center for several hundred wells. At the top of each facility was equipment to separate water, sand and gas from the crude oil which was then sent to large “collection barges” where the crude was stored until tug boats would come out once a week to swap the filled barges for empty ones.

One day one of the large hoses that transferred the oil from the facilities to the barges broke and an unknown amount of crude oil was released into the water. The four crew boats servicing the field were immediately called into action. We were loaded with what looked like those pump up insect sprayer things you buy at Home Depot but much larger. They were filled with a dispersing agent not unlike liquid detergent.

We spent the next few hours running around through the slick that covered several square miles spraying the dispersing agent and using the boat’s wakes to mix it all together. Eventually the sheen wasn’t noticeable anymore and the spill never happened as far as the Coast Guard knew.

My second go-round was much more personal and is told only with the safety of time and the certainty that the statute of limitations has run out.

After bringing Jolie Aire, the 85’ ketch I’d been running on the French Riviera to the States we were docked at a well-respected boat yard, which will remain anonymous, on the Dania Cut Off Canal outside of Fort Lauderdale.

It was a Saturday evening just after dark and I was filling the water tanks with a hose from the dock. The only other person on board was the young Irish lad, Martin, who had helped make our crossing of the pond such a delight. I had planned on making chili with some excellent steaks left over from the cruise and Martin came on deck and offered to finish topping off the tanks so I could start dinner. I’d been in the galley for about 20 minutes when the strong odor of diesel fuel pervaded the boat followed by diesel fuel itself spilling out of the galley vents.

I burst out on to the deck to find the fuel tank overflow vents spewing diesel fuel into the winch island recess. The photo shows the recess full of snow from over on the Riviera but you get an idea of how big it is.

It was almost filled to the brim with over 30 gallons of instant disaster and more being added every second. What had happened was after filling the first water tank Martin, without using the flashlight I’d left with him, opened another deck fill and stuck the water hose in a fuel fill!

Luckily we were the only boat in the yard with anyone on board, so except for the guard at the gate there was no one around to smell the diesel in the air. I looked over the side and there was a slick that filled the yard’s turning basin and it was being sucked out towards the Intracoastal Waterway by the falling tide.

We got into the car and raced to the nearest Publix supermarket where I was able to buy a small pump sprayer and eight gallons of Tide laundry detergent. Back at the boat we rode around the area spraying Tide on the slick then putting the bow of the dinghy against the floating docks and revving the outboard as high as it would go to bring the water to a rolling boil to mix it with the detergent. We kept this up for several hours until all the Tide had been used up.

The next morning I got up early and there was still a light sheen over the entire area. We drove to another supermarket and bought an additional five or six gallons of laundry detergent and repeated the process until the detergent and ourselves were exhausted. Since it was Sunday there was no one around the yard to witness our nefarious activities. On Monday morning there was no evidence that anything had been amiss.

It was our good fortune, if there was any in this story, that the night of our spill was also the night of the annual Christmas boat parade in Fort Lauderdale so every Coast Guard, police and Sherriff’s boat was on duty at the event and none around to catch us.

Am I proud of what I did? Of course not, but I also could not have borne the burden of the multi-thousand dollar fine that would have resulted had I reported what had happened to the authorities.

Granted neither of those events come close to the catastrophe that is occurring daily in the Gulf of Mexico, but I do have first-hand knowledge of the use of dispersing agents on oil slicks.


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Rainy Season In Panama

I had planned on descending to David to do a bit of shopping today. Top item on the list was to buy an umbrella. It’s the rainy season here in Panama and it’s been doing that on a daily basis. Some of it quite hard at times and, I believe, has been the cause of the two power failures in the 10 days I’ve been living up here in Potrerillos. The excursion to the lowlands has been postponed for a while mainly because I don’t have an umbrella, paraguas in Spanish, and it’s raining at 8 a.m. Recently it hasn’t started until the middle of the afternoon.

Here are a some videos of rain. The first is a heavy downpour in Fort Lauderdale recorded from the back porch where I lived and the second and third were recorded on the back porch here in Panama…


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Potrerillos Arriba, Panama Home

Photos are okay as far as they go, but videos give a better idea of a situation so I’m going to show you what it’s like where I live in Potrerillos Arriba.

The roof of the house extends about 10 feet from the sides and provides wonderful shade throughout the day. I like to sit and work at the back of the house and this is my view.

The house sits around 2,800 feet above sea level and when you look out the front of the house you’re looking south towards the city of David (Dah VEED), the third largest city in Panama, and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

There’s a gate at the end of the driveway leading to a dirt road that goes out to the main highway. Coming in you get a panoramic view of the area.


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Lunch or Dinner?

Here’s a scary photo and it’s NOT photoshopped, either. Once again found on Duckworks, one of the really great sites for and about boats.

That kayaker is actually in the mouth of the whale who is feeding. Read the whole story. Apparently the man wasn’t injured in the incident.


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The Learning Curve

Well, my first full day of being by myself in the Potrerillos house. Yesterday Jane, the owner of the house, went to the bank in Boquete and I went along to do a little bit of shopping there. It was just a little since the market wasn’t very large and what they offered was limited. This morning I went down to David to go shopping at the El Rey supermarket and to replenish my supply of Plavix. Catching the bus down to David wasn’t hard at all. Coming back was where the learning curve began.

I got what I wanted at Rey and then walked a couple of blocks to a fruit and veggie market nearby. I waited about 20 minutes for the bus to arrive.

What happened next is part of the learning curve of riding the buses here. As you come up the road from David there are two places where road forks. Bearing right at the first fork takes you to Boquete and the left to Potrerillos. At the second fork left takes you to Potrerillos ABAJO and the right fork leads to Potrerillos ARRIBA (don’t forget to roll that double R), Jane, had told me she had once taken the bus to Abajo and then had a couple of mile hike to get to the house.

Since I had two heavy bags full of canned good and other food stuffs I sure didn’t want to have to make such a hike and this bus was a bit different than the previous two rides I’d taken before. Different driver, different assistant (all the buses have a “conductor” to help people on and off the buses, take care of their bags and collect the fares (you pay when you get off) (the bus that is). Admittedly I wasn’t paying close attention to where we were and when the bus veered off to the left hand fork in the road I assumed it was going to Abajo and called “parada” to be let off. I paid my fare and as the bus left I realized I’d gotten off where the road branches towards Boquete. I then had to wait another 20 minutes to get on a bus to take me the rest of the way to the dirt road that leads to my house.

Now, as I said, one of the reasons I went to David and El Rey was to visit the pharmacy. Two months ago when I got my Plavix at Costco in the States it cost me $154! Here in Panama all medications, except narcotics, are over-the-counter, no prescription needed. Since I’ve been on it for nearly two years now my doctor in the States said I only need to take it every other day, doubling up on the aspirin on the days I don’t take the Plavix. And I know it’s working because I bleed like a hemophiliac at the slightest scrape and bump. Here in Panama they sell the Plavix in a box of 14 instead of getting a bottle of 3o. So, here’s the breakdown on cost. Fourteen pills list for $48.86. The Jubilado (that’s me) discount is $9.97, so the final price was $39.09. Roughly $2.80 a pill versus $5.14 in the States. VIVA PANAMA!!!

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The Face of a Mountain

To the north of the house in Potrerillos is the continental divide. Though I can’t see Panama’s tallest peak, Volcan Baru, that tops out at 11,398 feet from the back porch there is part of the cordillera that is spectacular enough. The house dog, Charlotte, started barking at ghosts as soon as it was light enough to see and I started to take pictures of the mountain as the day progressed. Clear at first as things warmed up clouds started forming changing the look of the face of the mountain. Now at 6:47 it’s too dark to take any more pictures but the clouds tower over the tree line in back and a black sliver of the mountain rises above that.

It rained for about three hours and when it was done I had to put on my blue jeans and a sweatshirt it had cooled down so much.

And, a cute young girl with her kids came to count us for the census. When it was over they gave each of us a pass so we could legally leave the house and they affixed this to the house to prove we’d been counted.


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Moving Into The New House

The Wardlaws, the people I’m house sitting for, are leaving for the States on Monday in the early afternoon. I wasn’t planning on coming to the house until tomorrow but that’s the day Panama is conducting its census and NO ONE is allowed to be out and about until they have been counted and given a pass. No church services tomorrow. No stores open, no taxis or buses. Nothing.There will be road blocks throughout the country and you will be detained for a bit, to be counted one would assume, and fined. I heard someone say there was going to be one census taker for every 12 people in Panama. If that’s true why not take the easy way out, then? Count the number of census takers and multiply by 12.

Since nothing is going to be moving until around seven in the evening I decided to make my move this morning after checkout time at the hostel. I also needed to find out how transportation thing was going to work. For such a small country there’s a lot of “the middle of nowhere” here and the house is in one of those places. As I’m sitting here writing this my closest neighbor is up the hill behind the house a good 300 or 400 yards away. Between the two houses there is a big meadow with five trees and three horses.

The buses run travel the 30 kilometers (18 miles) between here and David quite frequently judging by the number of buses I saw on the road when I was driving here last week that had Potrerillos on their front window but I can’t say yet how often they go. When I got off the bus I asked when the last bus left David in the evening. I was told 6:30 p.m. which seems quite early to me. I’ll have to ask again. The trip from the main terminal in David was on a 24 passenger bus, took 50 minutes and cost ninety cents.

When I got back to David on Thursday after returning my rental car to Panama City to avoid a $180 drop off charge I asked the taxi driver how much the fare was from downtown David to Potrerillos and he said $15. Some people said the “gringo” price was around $25 so I guess it depends on how well you speak Spanish.  If the last bus out of David IS 6:30 I guess I’ll be either spending the money or save myself half that by spending the night in a dorm bed at the Bambu Hostel.

It’s the rainy season now and it’s three in the afternoon. Dark rain clouds are obscuring the mountains behind the house. A bit of a breeze has sprung up and it’s cool here compared to hot and sticky David 2,900 feet below.

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Louisiana Oil Spill

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I lived, loved and worked in Louisiana. Katrina pretty much put the greater New Orleans area, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes on life support. To such an extent that I will never go back even to visit. It would break my heart. And now the oil disaster is sweeping though and area I know intimately, Breton and Chandeleur Sounds. I worked out there for almost two years running crew boats.

A reader of my blog, and the author of one of the most literate blogs I read, The Task At Hand, sent this to me today…

BTW—Did you hear that Sarah Palin is coming out with a new book? It’s going to be interactive, and if you buy it through the right-wing rag NewsMax you’ll get a complementary box of crayons to color it with.

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Señor Richard’s Excellent Adventure

The other day I met Jim “Jet” Nielson, holder of four world land speed records and getting ready to try for a fifth here in David on June 6th  hoping to set a fifth at 500 mph. I’ll be writing more about him in coming days. Jim is a longtime friend of my friend Frank Hilson who, himself, was an up and coming race car driver in the Sterling Moss era until a horrible, fiery crash ended his career. Frank was the one who pointed me in Jim’s direction.

Jim is also a sailor. He grew up in Hawaii and at the age of 19 was delivering boats that participated in the TransPac races back to the States. He said he had a trimaran in the Port of Pedrigal only a short drive from David. I was down there on my last trip and decided, yesterday, to go scope out Jim’s boat.

Before leaving the States I bought a chip for my GPS with Panama maps. For some reason it wouldn’t accept Pedregal as a destination. So I went to Google earth, got the Lat/Long coordinates and entered those and received routing. The instructions told me to go to the end of the street where the hostel is located and hang a left. It directed me through a few city streets and within 15 minutes I was at the marina. During the drive I spotted several decent looking restaurants and thought I’d go have supper there. Now, I love eating at the tiny restaurant across from the hostel but their menu is extremely limited. A whole fried fish ($5), a fillet of fish ($3), and the best sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) ($2.25) I’ve had in all of Panama to date. But my mouth was telling me it wanted to taste some shrimp that evening.

Dinner time arrived and when I turned on the GPS I went to the “coordinates” and hit “Go” without verifying them. I figured they had to be the same, right? Wrong.

When I got to the end off the street this time it told me to turn right instead of left. Okay, a different route. I drove and drove through city streets I’d never been on, but who knows, right? Wrong. No more street lights and the road narrows every kilometer. Eventually the pavement ends. Now I’m on a dirt road but the checkered flag indicating the destination is visible up in the upper left corner of the screen. The dirt road kept deteriorating with huge rocks and pot holes filled with rain water. Even a four wheel drive would have been going along at the five kilometer per hour pace. The map indicated that the road would be making a couple of switch backs on itself and then I came to a huge iron gate with a massive chain and padlock. Nothing to do but turn around and go back the way I came.

When I finally made it back to the paved road I pulled over, plugged in for the destination for the airport. The road to Pedregal is right along side the runway. In under five minutes I knew where I was. I stopped at the “Mar y Mariscos” (Sea and Seafood) restaurant where I had Camarones Criolla (Creole shrimp) which was delicious. The waiter gave me the 25% Jubilado discount without my asking for it, too. I love Panama.


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